th_Haruki-Nakamura

A very personal view of the Japanese tragedy from a Raven…

Haruki Nakamura, 5-10, 205, Ravens safety drafted in the 6th round from Cincinnati, now in his 4th year, is a player of Japanese descent who brings us a very real look at the balance between life-death issues and the fantasy life of the NFL…

Good for Haruki…he puts the current NFL work-stoppage crisis in world perspective. We needed that…

Nakamura, one of only a few NFL players of Japanese descent, issued a statement Monday asking for support in the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear power plant disaster afflicting Japan.

“The tragic events surrounding the devastating earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan has triggered many emotions from people across the world. The disaster has affected many people, including myself. I am proud to be a Japanese American, and honored to be one of few players in the NFL of Japanese heritage. The aftermath of the earthquake has been felt by people of all nationalities. Those of us with family and friends over there have been frantically attempting to contact them to make sure they are alive. I’m lucky to say that my family and friends in Japan are safe! Though I haven’t suffered any loss of life in my family, others aren’t so lucky.”

“As the death toll continues to rise, the danger associated with the earthquake is equally as elevated. In fact, the life-threatening situation continues to escalate every day. Radiation from the nuclear power plants that have been damaged has escaped and now hovers in the air. Aftershocks from the earthquake pose a constant threat while disrupting everything from public transportation to the ability to find clean water. I am not exaggerating when I say Japan is faced with a life-and-death situation. “

” I ask not as a professional football player, but for those who are in life and death situations in Japan, that you contact the American Red Cross(www.redcross.org), and see what you can do to help those in dire need. I would consider it a tremendous gesture of kindness if you can donate anything to help those who cannot help themselves survive this terrible disaster.”

Thus I call upon all Ravens fans within earshot of this message to respond.

If you feel half of the concern or pain that Haruki does right now, then please respond.

Nakamura is an amazing story in himself. He grew up the son of an overachieving Japanese immigrant family in the Pete Rose culture of hard-scrabble Cincinnati…his father died when he was just a young boy…and he is here in the NFL to tell about it.

” It was a very, very disciplined household. Dad let us develop our own skills as far as judo goes. He always taught us hard work, strong work ethic…He had all of us start judo at 2 years old. My mom really carried on the same tradition, the same work ethic, because after my father passed away, she was it, that’s all we had. We had four kids in the household and she never missed a day of work. Every day she got up, went to work, whether she was sick, felt like she was dying, the depression phase she was going through. Every day, she said, ‘I have a family to take care of. This is my responsibility.’ But she never complained, she never harped on her situation. And the thing is, she didn’t realize she was teaching us life lessons at that time…”

“I always looked at kids who had so many different things, whether it was a toy or brand-new bike or a Play-Station, and I looked at my mother and said ‘That stuff doesn’t matter to me,’ because whatever my mom gave to me, I appreciated that much than anything else she could have done for us. That’s how we all felt. That’s why my brother Yoshi works on Wall Street, I’m here in the NFL, my brother Mako has been asked to be a principal in an elementary school in Pennsylvania. My sister Kimiko was a volleyball player at the University of Cincinnati and now she’s starting her coaching career.”

“We were all national champs. My brother Yoshi was an eight-time national judo champion. I was a national judo champion, my sister was a champion, my older brother Mako was a national champion. We have a very competitive background. The reason people don’t know too much about it is that we don’t talk about it. We’re very proud of it, but we don’t want to be like, ‘Hey, look what I did.’ That’s not what we were raised to do. We were raised to work hard, and do things the best we can.”

“When Dad passed away, my mom tried to keep us on the path of judo, [but] we started realizing there were other sports out there. I really started liking baseball, and I started developing a little more of an aggressive attitude. My brother Yoshi realized it and he snuck me into a Catholic Youth Organization [football] league. My mom had no idea whatsoever. She didn’t want me to play football. Next thing you know, I’m coming home with a pair of shoulder pads and my mom says, ‘What the hell are those?’ I said, ‘Ma, I got a game on Sunday.’ Ever since then, she’s been my biggest fan. So my mom goes from the person who didn’t want me to play football to the person, when I broke my wrist that first year, she said, put a cast on it and go play. I played running back then.”

Nakamura has never actually been to Japan. But he says he wants to go there to find and introduce young players to the American game.

“I’ve never been there. I planned to do a youth football camp [last offseason], but then I broke my ankle [in a game at Cleveland]. My goal is still to do a youth camp over there and bring guys from here. I’m paying my respects to my father. We did everything he taught us to do, and I want to thank him because what he taught me paid off.”

After high school, Nakamura got a call from Cincinnati U.

” I was very thankful I was going to play for a team that was going into a BCS conference. I never thought about the NFL. I looked at it as an opportunity to play in a strong conference. As a high school player, you see these teams playing on ESPN, and you see all the big conferences getting all the publicity. Cincinnati was the only big school that truly gave me an opportunity.”

“Going into my senior year, I knew I had an opportunity to be drafted into the NFL . I had a rough junior year and I felt like I played really well. I actually had a stress fracture in my fibula my entire junior year, and I played with it. They asked me, ‘Either you can sit out …or play till it breaks.’ I said, ‘Let’s just play till it breaks.’ It never broke. I had the mentality to just push. That was the most pain I put myself through outside of my ankle last year.”

” It was a great thing to be drafted by the Ravens in the 6th round, especially to the Ravens. As a defensive player, if you’re drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, that means someone in an organization that has a great defense feels you can play. When that opportunity comes, what else could you ask for? I was extremely excited. The biggest thing for me was, I didn’t get invited to the combine. That was more frustrating for me than being drafted in the sixth round. I was very thankful for what my situation brought me. The opportunity Baltimore’s given me, I’ve tried to take full advantage of it.”

Drafted in 2008, Nakamura was doing great…until he broke his ankle in a game in Cleveland in 2009.

“My first two months after surgery, that was the two darkest month period of my life. I had no idea what was going on. I had six or seven different pain pills I was taking at an hourly time. It was just really rough. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come back. I was losing all this weight. I think I lost 22 pounds total. It was bad.”

“Finally I stopped saying, ‘Why me?’ Those first couple months, I was saying ‘Why did this happen to me?’ But I finally said, ‘I pushed through so much crap in my life that this isn’t going to be the one that stops my career.’ I just started taking that one-day at a time [attitude], I started changing my workload. When I was able to start running, I was up here at 5:30, 6 in the morning before everybody else got here.”

Nakamura still believes his future as a star defensive back with the Ravens is…well, in the stars…

“Coming in, I said my ultimate goal is to play 10 years and it still is my goal. I feel like I’m a good enough player to make it 10 years. Not one of those guys [who’s going] to struggle to make it for 10 years. Obviously you want to be a starter. [But] the way I look at this situation, we have two of the best safeties in the NFL. You’ll never, ever hear me complain about playing time here. I’m in a situation where I can learn. And this is my time to learn from two of the best safeties in the league, a guy like Dawan [Landry], who can make tons of plays down in the box and, at the same time, force fumbles and get interceptions like he did last year. And then, obviously, I have the greatest safety that ever played the game in Ed Reed. There’s so much I can learn from those guys. I’ve been sitting back and enjoying my time here, and am very thankful I have this opportunity.”

Now Haruki Nakamura is asking Ravens fans to help give an opportunity to his parents’ homeland folks to survive and conquer the cruelest of jokes played by Mother Nature. In a time of incredible tragedy, Nakamura is asking us to not just think of ourselves…but to donate generously to a people who are in great distress…and, as it turns out, not very different from us at all.

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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